Shade Monthly
Shade Monthly 2015

Author: Joe Sime

Shade Monthly: July 2015

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Plant of the Month: Vancouveria

There are so many plants to chose from this month, and I was tempted by Lilium mackliniae, which is looking good, but I decided to go for something more restrained and hard working. Vancouveria is a genus of three species, all from the west coast of the USA. They are very closely related to Epimedium and grow in similar woodland condition. They differ from Epimedium mainly in the fact that their flower parts are in sixes rather than fours. All three species make easy, hardy, carpeting perennials for a shady spot, and will take quite dry conditions once well established. V. hexandra is deciduous and needs a tidy in the spring to remove the dead leaves. It is the first to flower of the three (in May for us). For many years my plants failed to set seed. Wendy then grew some more from seed sent to the seed distribution by Walt from his Seattle garden. These I planted together and they have set seed freely. The genus is obviously similar to Epimedium in being self sterile.

V. chrysantha has similar leaves to hexandra, but they are evergreen, and the flowers a pleasant pale yellow as opposed to white. It flowers a little later and for a longer period in our garden.

V. planipetala is the least common of the three (only three suppliers in the Plant Finder). It has neater, lower growing, glossy, evergreen foliage. It spreads more slowly than the other two but will eventually make a good carpet.

Not as flashy as some of the Chinese epimediums, they are nevertheless a good addition to any shade garden.

Seattle Notes… an update from Walt

This was an exceptionally benign spring with both moderate temperatures and moisture. Many spring bloomers had an extended season of bloom as a result. Staying around longer than normal ranged from Illicium anisatum, Strobilanthes convallarioides, Lunaria rediviva, Epimediums of many persuasions, ‘Alba’, Heloniopsis acutifolia, to .

My Fothergilla monticola put on a wonderful show this year. It sits under two large Crataegus monogyna, the common or one-seeded hawthorn of England which my wife dearly loves as it signals the warm days of spring to her when they appear cloaked in white. A seedling Oemleria cerasiformis or Indian Plum that comes forth a month before the Fothergilla begins a parade of white in this sector with the Fothergilla preceding the hawthorns by three weeks. Even with the dappled shade it is in, the Fothergilla does color up in the fall in spectacular tones of peach and pink. With more light, it would be orange and red. The feathery blooms of Fothergilla really have a joyous presence; fragrance is just another bonus of this shrub.

Fothergilla monticola

Blooming just for the second time is my Parrotiopsis jacquemontii. I received this as a seedling from my major professor and mentor at the University of Washington, Dr. Kruckeberg some years ago. He had collected the seed while in Pakistan; his wife Mareen raised these in her nursery (MsK Nursery). Mine is sited against a clipped Leyland hedge where the blossoms can be seen against the green backdrop. It doesn’t hurt either when the reddish fall color has good contrast. Although small, the five whitish petals with a centered boss of yellow stamens do make a statement. I marvel at the range of blossom types in this family. With a small garden, I don’t have enough room for other members of the Hamammelidaceae besides Corylopsis pauciflora and a Sycopsis sinensis.

Parrotiopsis jacquemontii

On the herbaceous front, my Disporum longistylum ‘Green Giant’ gives me much pleasure to watch it from my basement window when seated at my computer table. The young sprouts emerge first upright and then begin to arch outward until reaching mature height of a meter or more. The leaf buds are shaped such that one thinks of flamingo beaks. This is one of Dan Hinkley's Chinese introductions that join many others of his wondrous contributions to the horticultural scene in my garden. He's been a friend ever since I hired him to join me in teaching horticulture at the Edmonds Community College back in 19xx. He stayed just six years before starting his famous nursery Heronswood and went on to collecting plants and seed worldwide thereafter. We in the Northwest feel fortunate to be able to see the renovated Heronswood these days (purchased by the Port Gamble Klallam tribe) and his new home and nursery Windcliff.

Disporum longistylum ‘Green Giant’

The came from a local plantswoman, Marion Kohn, who had an impressive garden immediately north of Seattle. In earlier days, she was at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. as an entomologist specializing in midges of the Dipteran order. I believe she took to the green world with a passion due to its macro-sizing! On almost a two-acre site, slightly sloping westward, she grew a wide variety of plants. Plants ranged from a towering that was a hummingbird magnet down to the diminutive groundcover from New Zealand, Cyathodes colensoi. I always think of her as I pass my Ramonda, nestled in a basalt rockery facing west. It certainly holds true about sharing plants being the best way to be remembered for me.

Ramonda myconi

A downside that long-time gardeners here keep in the back of their mind is that without a normal snowpack in the Cascades (the mountain range east of Seattle), we may be in for rationing come summer and early fall. Seattle is fortunate in being amongst the few major municipalities to own its own water system, two large lakes being recharged from run-off and both off-limits to the general public. After a number of years in the 80's when rationing was mandatory and expensive if one exceeded tiered levels, conservation efforts became the norm. Now, even though the population served by the Seattle water system has doubled, water usage is actually below previous years. It still is expensive to exceed limits as I found out last year when a water bill triple the normal amount came after a three-week road trip. I was ready to blame our new cat-sitter/garden waterer but discovered a leak in the irrigation system was the culprit.

Epimediums from Seed

I wrote a little about this in my garden blog a few years ago, but as the seed is ripening now, it seems useful to repeat it.

The first point to make is that most epimedium species and cultivars are not self fertile. As many of the species sold in the UK are from a single introduction, this means that almost all the plants you will grow from seed will be hybrids. It also means that the best and easiest way of getting some good viable seed is to plant several species/varieties close together and let the insects do the hard work. Deliberate crossing is difficult with such small and delicate flowers and I have never tried it.

The seed pods are supposed to split longitudinally and drop the seed onto the ground. In my experience it is just as common for the pod to fall and then open when it hits the ground, and certainly the easiest way to collect seed is to gently brush the stem with your hand and collect any pods that come away easily.

The seed has a fatty lump or eliasome on the end, and this is reward to the ants who collect the seed and transport them away from the mother plant where they are left in moist, woodland soil. The main point here is that the seeds never dry out, and if you want success you must make sure this does not happen to the seed you have collected. You should plant it immediately in a humus rich, moist but well drained compost. We use our standard ‘woodland’ mix of 3 part of either leaf mould or general purpose compost to 2 parts of either John Innes or ‘mole-hill’ soil to one part horticultural grit. It will germinate in the following Spring. It is best to grow them on in pots for 2 years and then plant out. They will usually flower first in their second or third year. It is fun waiting for the first flowers to appear. Often they may be close to their parents, but on average one in three will be different and your own unique form. I enclose a picture of my current favourite.

The seed parent was E. wushanense ‘Caramel’ . I think the white and amber looks a bit like cream caramel.

Epimedium ex wushanense ‘Caramel’

Obviously the best way is to collect your own seed, but if you do not have any, some is available in the seed exchange (see below).

Garden Visit… Hodnet Hall

Hodnet stream borders

It is several years since we have visited Hodnet Hall. The opening hours were restricted and it became inconvenient (they now open every Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday during the season.) We visited on a Sunday at the end of May to coincide with a ‘Plant Hunter's Fair.’

At the fair I bought a silver leaved form of Arisaema taiwanense from ‘Shady Plants’. The nursery man told me that this, and some other arisaema, produce bulbils at the top of the main bulb that remain dormant unless they get light. It is thought that this is a ploy to prevent competition for the main bulb, but lead to growth if it is rooted up and eaten by some animal. If you want to multiply the plants, you have to dig them up, re-plant the main one and then pot up the others close to the surface of the compost.

Hodnet shade planting

But back to Hodnet garden. The good points we remember from the past have developed further. The stream side planting is still excellent and the many hydrangeas have matured and were waiting for their turn to impress later in the year. Like many old estates it is blessed with high, mature trees giving an open shade, and the underplanting of small trees and shrubs is superb. (The Davidia were waving their handkerchiefs.) What has developed is the ground level planting. Large swathes of trilliums were still evident, even if no longer in flower and in one area more choice woodlanders had been planted in a moist but well drained raised bed. We look forward to returning in a couple of years to see how this progresses. If you are in North Shropshire on a Sunday, a visit will not disappoint.

Available Seed

If you are a paid up member of the Shade and Woodland Plant Group and would like any of the seeds listed below, please send a SAE to S.J.Sime, Park Cottage, Penley, Wrexham LL13 0LS.

If you have seed to donate, please send it to the same address.

Clethra delavayi

Clethra monostachya

Disporopsis aspersa

subsp. sargentiana


Kirengeshoma palmata

Rhododendron macrophyllum

var humilis

Sarcococca ruscifolia

Schefflera alpina

Eranthis hyemalis

Lonicera setifera

Beesia calthifolia

Mitella breweri

Mitella makinoi

Epimedium from named seed parents

Shade Charades

Guess the species. Two words:

First Word, three syllables.

  • First syllable… Where one plays tennis
  • Last two syllables… to apply or employ one

Second word, Four syllables

  • First two syllables… familiar diminutive address for the first evangelist
  • Third syllable… to be in debt
  • Fourth syllable… tell an untruth

The solution to last months Charade was Romanzoffia tracyi. Romanzofia are a genus of small perennials from the west coast of North America, reaching into Alaska, where they are known as ‘Mist Maidens'. This name is a good description. They are adapted to grown on cliffs and banks where they gather most of their moisture from the heavy winter fogs. They are dormant for the drier summer months. They form 6 in. mounds of shiny scalloped leaves and are covered in late spring by masses of white flowers. R. tracy and R. californica are both robust species, easy to grow in a shady spot.

Joe Sime

The HPS Shade and Woodland Plant Group is open to all members of the Hardy Plant Society. Please follow this link for more information.

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